Falsifiable and non-Falsifiable Ideas


I have been talk­ing to some peo­ple (few spe­cific peo­ple I thought would benefit and ap­pre­ci­ate it) in my dorm and teach­ing them ra­tio­nal­ity. I have been think­ing of skills that should be taught first and it made me think about what skill is most im­por­tant to me as a ra­tio­nal­ist.

I de­cided to start with the ques­tion “What does it mean to be able to test some­thing with an ex­per­i­ment?” which could also mean “What does it mean to be falsifi­able?”

To help my point I brought up the thought ex­per­i­ment with a dragon in Carl Sa­gan’s garage which is as follows

Carl: There is a dragon in my garage
Me: I thought drag­ons only ex­isted in leg­ends and I want to see for my­self
Carl: Sure fol­low me and have a look
Me: I don’t see a dragon in there
Carl: My dragon is in­visi­ble
Me: Let me throw some flour in so I can see where the dragon is by the dis­rup­tion of the flour
Carl: My dragon is incorporeal

And so on

The an­swer that I was try­ing to bring about was along the lines that if some­thing could be tested by an ex­per­i­ment then it must have at least one differ­ent effect if it were true than if it were false. Fur­ther if some­thing had at least one effect differ­ent if it were true than if it was false then I could at least in the­ory test it with an ex­per­i­ment.

This led me to the state­ment:
If some­thing can­not at least in the­ory be tested by ex­per­i­ment then it has no effect on the world and lacks mean­ing from a truth stand point there­fore ra­tio­nal stand­point.

An­thony (the per­son I was talk­ing to at the time) started his counter ar­gu­ment with any ob­ject in a thought ex­per­i­ment can­not be tested for but still has a mean­ing.

So I re­vised my state­ment any ob­ject that if brought into the real world can­not be tested for has no mean­ing. Un­der the as­sump­tion that if an ob­ject could not be tested for in the real world it also has no effect on any­thing in the thought ex­per­i­ment. i.e. the story with the dragon would have gone the same way in­de­pen­dent of its truth val­ues if it were in the real world.

Then the dis­cus­sion con­tinued into could it be ra­tio­nal to have a be­lief that could not even in the­ory be tested. It be­came in­ter­est­ing when An­thony gave the ar­gu­ment that if be­liev­ing in a dragon in your garage gave you hap­piness and the world would be the same ei­ther way be­sides the hap­piness com­bined with the prin­ci­ple that ra­tio­nal­ity is the art of sys­tem­atized win­ning it is clearly ra­tio­nal to be­lieve in the dragon.

I re­sponded with truth trumps hap­piness and be­liev­ing the dragon would force you to be­lieve the false be­lief which is not worth the amount of hap­piness re­ceived by be­liev­ing it. Even fur­ther I ar­gued that it would in fact be a false be­lief be­cause p(world) > p(world)p(im­per­me­able in­visi­ble dragon) which is a sim­ple oc­cum’s ra­zor ar­gu­ment.

My in­tended di­rec­tion for this ar­gu­ment with An­thony from this point was to ap­ply these points to the­ol­ogy but we ran out of time and we have not had time again to talk so that may be a fu­ture post.

To­day how­ever Sh­minux pointed out to me that I held be­liefs that were them­selves non-falsifi­able. I re­al­ized then that it might be ra­tio­nal to be­lieve non-falsifi­able things for two rea­sons (I’m sure there’s more but these are the main one’s I can think of please com­ment your own)

1) The be­lief has a beauty to it that flows with falsifi­able be­liefs and makes known facts fit more perfectly. (this is very dan­ger­ous and should not be used lightly be­cause it fo­cuses to closely on opinion)

2) You be­lieve that the be­lief will some­day al­low you to make an origi­nal the­ory which will be falsifi­able.

Both of these rea­sons if not used very care­fully will al­low false be­liefs. As such I my­self de­cided that if a be­lief or new the­ory suffi­ciently meets these con­di­tions enough to make me want to be­lieve them I should put them into a spe­cial cat­e­gory of my thoughts (per­haps con­jec­tures). This cat­e­gory should be be­low be­liefs in power but still held as how the world works and any­thing in this cat­e­gory should always strive to leave it, mean­ing that I should always strive to make any non-falsifi­able con­jec­ture no longer be a con­jec­ture through mak­ing it a be­lief or dis­prov­ing it.

Note: This is my first post so as well as dis­cussing the post, cri­tiques sim­ply to the writ­ing are deeply wel­comed in PM to me.